Whitlock v. Moree 2017 UKPC 44


  • Lennard and Mr. Moree were joint account holders of a bank account (‘the joint bank account’) with First Carribean International Bank (‘the Bank’)
  • When setting up the account, Mr. Lennard and Mr. Moore signed an account opening application in the Bank’s standard joint account form, which included a joint tenancy clause (‘clause 20’) stating that unless otherwise agreed in writing, all money credited to the account was the joint property of the account holders and that the right of survivorship applied.
  • Mr Lennard died in February 2010. At the time of Mr Lennard’s death, the balance of the account amounted to some $190,000. Mr. Lennard had contributed that sum to the account from an account previously in his sole name with the Bank.
  • The two questions before the Privy Council were: (1) Does clause 20 deal with the beneficial ownership of the joint account, or merely with the bare legal title to the chose in action against the bank represented by the bank? And (2) Is the fact that Mr. Lennard and Mr Moree opened the joint bank account by means of a signed written application containing clause 20 determinative of its beneficial ownership, as at the date of Mr. Lennard’s death?
  • The courts below had approached the dispute on the assumption that a resulting trust of the money in the bank account was to be presumed in favour of the estate of Mr. Moree if Mr. Moree could not discharge the burden of proving that Mr. Lennard intended to make a beneficial gift of that money to him. The Court of Appeal concluded that Mr. Moore had discharged the burden of proof.


Held, allowing the appeal:


  • Where two or more holders of a joint account all sign an account opening document (or separately sign identical documents) which, on their true construction, declare or set out their respective beneficial interests in the property constituted by the account (loosely, the money in the account), then those are the beneficial interests of the account holders, pending any subsequent variation of them by agreement or otherwise. [29]
  • In those cases, an examination of the subjective intentions of the account holders, or of those of them who place money in the joint account, is neither relevant nor permissible. Still less is recourse to the doctrine of presumed resulting trusts permissible, because the potential beneficial owners have declared what are their beneficial interests by signed writing.[29]
  • The Court of Appeal was correct in regarding the interpretation of the account opening documents and of clause 20 in particular as a clear declaration that the survivor of Mr. Lennard and Mr Moree was to have the beneficial interest in the joint account. [47]
  • This was therefore a case in which the two holders of a joint account expressly set out a declaration as to the beneficial interests in that joint account, which on its true construction, provided for any balance on the account to be the beneficial property of the survivor upon the death of the other account holder, regardless of who contributed the money to the credit of the account before that date [50];
  • There was no need to conduct an open-ended factual analysis as to the subjective intention of Mr. Lennard since the account opening forms signed by him and Mr. Moree were dispositive of the beneficial interest in that account. [50]